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Dissent introduces ideas of change, says Romila Thapar

With an attentive global audience of more than 700 people online, eminent historian Romila Thapar on Saturday drew a direct line connecting dissent from the past to the present day, in the process, drawing attention specifically to societies disallowing dissent in modern times.

Drawing on her recently published book, Voices of Dissent, Prof. Thapar said dissent is directed towards a matter of importance. Dissent stems from a particular opinion or disagreement but is not arbitrary. It may begin with a minor disagreement but is recognised as dissent when it refers to a specific issue of some substance that introduces ideas of change in thought and practice.

Elaborating and drawing attention to the centrality of dissent, Prof. Thapar said dissent can be a form of protest, although protest is generally more organised. It is better to say that dissent can change into a form of protest. Dissent is non-violent. It tends to be more vocal in complex societies that bring together a variety of communities following diverse occupations and social rules and belief systems. The interplay of dissent and conformity cannot be ignored.

“Dissent encourages the questioning of the world in which we live and, in this process, alternatives can be formulated,” the historian said.

That women’s participation had a role to play in dissent past and present, was also highlighted by Prof. Thapar. The recent protests at Shaheen Bagh and the farmers’ protest — the former had a large component of women expressing their opposition to the Citizen’s Amendment Act debarring some categories of people from citizenship. The overwhelming presence of women turned it into a women’s movement. In the farmers’ protest against the new agricultural laws, the protestors were non-violent, demanding a dialogue on the laws, she said.

A more important question, Ms. Thapar said, is “how are these laws were being received by those most closely affected by them”. In a democratic society their voices have also to be heard, she said, adding that dissenting views today have a new dimension.

“We are no longer a colony ruled by a coloniser in the Indian sub-continent. We are aspiring to be a nation state that is a secular democracy. In this context protests can also be viewed as a comment on the questions being raised in discussions in many places. Does elected representation suffice in conveying what people want,” Prof. Thapar asked.

Inevitably the wider aspects of democracy have to be discussed such as additional ways of debating solutions to the problems we are facing today. How to strengthen democracy and the institutions of democracy pertinent to how democracy should function. There can be no solution if the views of the opponent are silenced by the views of the proponent, Prof. Thapar said as she concluded her discussion on dissent online.

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 2:15:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/dissent-introduces-ideas-of-change-says-romila-thapar/article34995406.ece

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